Chimpanzees Self-Medicate with Forest Plants, Study Reveals

Groundbreaking research from the University of Oxford suggests that chimpanzees actively seek out and consume plants with medicinal properties to treat their ailments. The study, published in PLOS ONE, combines behavioral observations with pharmacological testing to provide compelling evidence of self-medication in wild chimpanzees.

From Observation to Pharmacology: Uncovering Chimp Medicine

Researchers monitored 51 chimpanzees from two communities in Uganda’s Budongo Central Forest Reserve, observing their behavior and health. They then collected and tested extracts from 13 plant species that the chimps were seen eating, particularly when sick or injured.

The results were striking: 88% of the plant extracts showed antibacterial properties, while 33% demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects. Dead wood from a Dogbane family tree (Alstonia boonei) exhibited the strongest antibacterial activity and anti-inflammatory properties, suggesting its potential use in treating wounds.

Specific Plants for Specific Ailments

The study documented several instances of targeted plant consumption by ailing chimpanzees. A male with an injured hand was observed eating leaves of a fern (Christella parasitica) with potent anti-inflammatory effects, potentially to reduce pain and swelling. Another chimp with a parasitic infection consumed bark from the cat-thorn tree (Scutia myrtina).

East African mahogany tree (Khaya anthotheca) bark and resin also showed significant anti-inflammatory properties, further expanding the chimpanzees’ natural pharmacy.

“In this paper, we demonstrate how watching and learning from our primate cousins may fast-track the discovery of novel medicines, while also emphasizing the importance of protecting our forest pharmacies,” the authors stated.

This research not only provides insights into chimpanzee behavior but also highlights the potential for discovering new medicines. The plants used by chimps could lead to the development of drugs to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria and chronic inflammatory diseases.

As we uncover more about the sophisticated ways our closest relatives interact with their environment, the study underscores the critical importance of preserving biodiversity. These forest pharmacies, it seems, hold secrets that could benefit both chimpanzees and humans alike.

Our Take

A new study in the journal PLOS ONE followed wild chimpanzees in Africa and observed them eating unusual things like tree bark and ferns. These weren’t part of their typical diet. Scientists then tested these plants and found they have properties that fight germs and reduce swelling, similar to some human medicines. This suggests chimps might be deliberately selecting these plants to treat themselves when sick or injured. The study is interesting because it shows chimps potentially self-medicating and offers promise for future human medicine by exploring these natural remedies.

Additional Resources

Substack subscription form sign up
The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.